Monday, November 2, 2015

Pat McKelvey Reviews The Children's Train

I knew nothing about the WW2 Kindertransport and was pleased to be given the chance to read this historical fictional novel. It’s particularly timely now, when we have so many thousands of children fleeing bombs or oppression and/or torture, but with not enough places willing to take them in.
England managed to save about 10,000 before Rotterdam was bombed and Holland surrendered. They even had to move the children (with their own) out of London during the Blitz.

This is a book that could be read by school-aged children, if you think they are ready to learn about how badly we are capable of treating each other. It also shows how generous people and nations can be during times of crisis.

After Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, November 9-10, 1938, England generously offers to foster Jewish children, bringing them via train -the Kindertransport – to Holland and then via ship. Peter’s parents manage to get him, his little sister and his beloved violin on the train, but the girl he is so fond of, Eva, loses her seat to her vicious older brother, William, and ends up in the camps while William gets up to no good in England.

We follow both Peter’s and Eva’s stories and learn of the increased suffering of their families and friends, but without an overload of graphic detail. 

The text is simple and direct (excerpt below). The facts alone are horrifying enough, although we get a fair sense of the rot, the filth, the smell of death - and the cold and hunger, of course. 

Peter and his violin survive a bomb attack, and he decides it’s time to fight back. He’s only 13.

“Peter emerged, crawling on his hands and knees from under the stairs. He was covered in dirt and blood, but he was still alive and relatively unharmed. He glanced around, and then looked down at his body, as if stunned to see it was still in one piece. He wiped the blood and debris from his face in long-fingered streaks.

“He turned and frantically pulled boards away, pulling up his mattress and revealing his violin. He grabbed the case and carefully wiped its cover with his sleeve. He set the case down and slowly opened it.

“The violin was unharmed. He picked it up and held it aloft, like an offering to God, an acknowledgment that this was evidence that confirmed God was watching over him. Then he bent down in prayer with the bow and violin still in his hands. ‘I give my life to you’, he prayed. 

“What Peter had run from had finally caught up with him. A flash of understanding surged through his mind. A shiver ran through his body, and he knew that running wouldn’t work. Staying and fighting was the only way to survive, and it was time to stand up.”

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